Journal of Fluid Mechanics

Strongly turbulent Rayleigh–Bénard convection in mercury: comparison with results at moderate Prandtl number

a1 Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon, Laboratoire de Physique, 46, Allée d'Italie, 69364 Lyon Cedex 07, France


An experimental study of Rayleigh–Bénard convection in the strongly turbulent regime is presented. We report results obtained at low Prandtl number (in mercury, Pr = 0.025), covering a range of Rayleigh numbers 5 × 106 < Ra < 5 × 109, and compare them with results at Pr[similar]1. The convective chamber consists of a cylindrical cell of aspect ratio 1.

Heat flux measurements indicate a regime with Nusselt number increasing as Ra0.26, close to the 2/7 power observed at Pr[similar]1, but with a smaller prefactor, which contradicts recent theoretical predictions. A transition to a new turbulent regime is suggested for Ra [simeq R: similar, equals] 2 × 109, with significant increase of the Nusselt number. The formation of a large convective cell in the bulk is revealed by its thermal signature on the bottom and top plates. One frequency of the temperature oscillation is related to the velocity of this convective cell. We then obtain the typical temperature and velocity in the bulk versus the Rayleigh number, and compare them with similar results known for Pr[similar]1.

We review two recent theoretical models, namely the mixing zone model of Castaing et al. (1989), and a model of the turbulent boundary layer by Shraiman & Siggia (1990). We discuss how these models fail at low Prandtl number, and propose modifications for this case. Specific scaling laws for fluids at low Prandtl number are then obtained, providing an interpretation of our experimental results in mercury, as well as extrapolations for other liquid metals.

(Received March 16 1996)
(Revised October 10 1996)